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Tuesday, 26 June 2012
Page: 8053

Mr BANDT (Melbourne) (18:20): The High Court decision in the Williams case is to be welcomed. The key message from the decision is that the executive cannot, as it has done in the past, simply spend funds without parliamentary scrutiny. The degree to which the executive spends funds on programs without appropriate parliamentary scrutiny is demonstrated by the hundreds of programs listed in the regulations tabled along with this bill, the Financial Framework Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 3) 2012.

The Australian Greens welcome the rebalancing between the executive and the parliament brought about by the High Court decision. This is a good decision for democracy. We do understand, though, the need of the government to address the validity of the hundreds of spending programs currently under a cloud and we appreciate the mechanism provided by this bill is an appropriate option. We do, however, have significant concerns if in the future the government continues to use a regulatory mechanism for new programs. While a regulation comes before parliament it is not debated unless subject to a disallowance motion and cannot be amended. The Greens will keep our options open in respect of any future spending programs the government seeks to regulate rather than bring to the parliament through legislation. We are strongly of the view that in the future government programs of the type at issue here should be brought before the parliament as legislation for appropriate parliamentary scrutiny. On the issue of the National School Chaplaincy and Student Welfare program, the Australian Greens have consistently raised concerns about the chaplaincy program since its inception by the Howard government and through its significant expansion under the current government. We do not believe the program is in the best interests of students in our secular public education system. The qualification requirements for the program are wholly inadequate. The court decision offered the government an opportunity to overhaul the chaplaincy program and to ensure the millions of dollars being spent are actually to the benefit of schools and their students.

The Greens maintain that an alternative program that seeks to assist students and is delivered by professionals with appropriate qualifications is the better public policy. Schools and students may need counsellors with appropriate university qualifications. Other schools with large bodies of students who do not speak English as a first language may need assistance from people with relevant language qualifications. The Greens want the funds from the program spent but spent in ways that offer value to our nation's schools and students.